Millennials in the workplace: Myths, misconceptions, and tips

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Lazy. Entitled. World champions of participation with trophies to prove it. A lot of unfavorable (and unfair) labels get thrown around when discussing millennials. And if you’re an HR professional, those labels may raise some alarms about what that means for you over the coming years.

With the incoming seismic shift in labor participation demographics, that’s a valid concern. Millennials have already overtaken Gen X to make up the largest share of American workers, and it’s estimated they’ll make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

But before you start shredding employee handbooks and retooling your entire engagement strategy, it’s worth asking:

How different are millennials, really?

From looking at our employee engagement data—collected from millions of workers from dozens of service companies over the last several years—we were a little surprised to find that all those headlines predicting “The end of the workplace as we know it” may have been a little overblown.

It turns out millennials have a lot in common with other generations when it comes to their attitudes toward workplace engagement. In fact, they’re practically the same. Across all generations, the top three drivers of engagement hold true:

  • Work that’s rewarding
  • Opportunities to use talent
  • Opportunities to learn/grow

That means if you’ve already been making an effort to put your people in meaningful roles that optimize their skill sets, help develop new ones, and provide a defined career path, you’re probably in good shape. But that still doesn’t mean you’ll be able to coast on a business-as-usual approach.

Meet the new worker, (not 100%) same as the old worker

While they’re driven by the same motivators, millennials exhibit some unique characteristics, too. First, their engagement scores are lower on average. Second—and relatedly—they don’t display the same long-term commitment to organizations that other generations do.

Third, they have different expectations when it comes to how they engage with work. Most notably, they want jobs to have a technological spin. And that makes sense. As the most tech-savvy generation to enter the workforce to date, that’s in line with wanting a job that gives them opportunities to use their talents. 

So what’s that mean for you? Simply put: if it can be digital, it should be. For example, instead of posting weekly shifts to the backroom bulletin board, build out a shared calendar that can be pulled up on their phone, where you’re more likely to reach them. Small touches like that go a long way, as they show you know engagement is a two-way street. 


Building out an engagement strategy that spans generational gaps

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to workforce management. It’s part of what makes our jobs so challenging. But there are some tips you can follow to make sure your engagement program is as effective as possible:

  1. Don’t ask if you don’t intend to act. This one’s especially important. Engagement doesn’t come from asking a series of questions—it comes from using the answers to effect change. In one study for an SMG client, locations with the highest level of follow-through on the survey data saw an 18% increase in overall engagement. Locations with the lowest level of follow-through? They saw a 21% decrease.
  2. An engagement program is more than just a survey. Measuring engagement is great, but you also need to create defined action plans and use short, pulse surveys to gauge whether those actions are making a difference. And make sure you’re getting insight from every stage of the employee life cycle by complementing your core engagement survey with onboarding and exit surveys.
  3. Set tangible goals that connect to other metrics. If you let your engagement program live on an island, don’t expect your organization to be all-in. Tie things like turnover rates and overall engagement to other data—including customer satisfaction and financial results—and you’ll see an increased investment in making sure you hit your targets.

Those are just a few things we’ve learned from our millions of conversations with employees over the years. To learn more, check out the full report.

Jeff Jokerst
VP, Client Insights

Customer Experience Update